To meet the bold net-zero targets of an incredibly dedicated island nation, the United Kingdom, collectively, needs to work together to transition to a cleaner energy system. After the legally binding declaration — to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 — was made in 2019, the country’s power utilities monumentally upped their decarbonisation action plans in preparation of making this significant shift within the next 30 years.

With one of the most ambitious targets in the world, the U.K. has reduced emissions by roughly 45%, compared to 1990 levels, in its quest to transition to a low carbon economy and cleaner energy system. But to tackle such a massive change and achieve such aggressive goals — and timeline — takes more than a robust plan. It requires a whole-system approach and collaborative partnerships, equipped with diverse perspectives, for the good of all projects, the industry, the nation and ultimately the global challenge of climate change.

Though a well-known concept that has been around for ages, collaboration — and the trust that comes with it — is at the very heart of consortium projects and innovation strategy programs across the U.K.

In direct response to the aggressive 2050 goal, the Zero2050 project is underway, with the purpose of creating a road map for the decarbonisation of South Wales. Led by National Grid, this consortium is exploring the use of the energy vectors of electricity and hydrogen and the effects on generation, transport, heat, cities and industry. Burns & McDonnell is analysing the electrical transmission and distribution network reinforcement required to implement a net-zero energy system in the region and investigating innovative solutions to optimise the cost investment. Local industry, academia, government and utility members, along with other stakeholders, are providing valuable insight for project progression.

Diversity in thought and partnerships lays the groundwork for a truly collaborative environment, spurring innovation with inclusivity to deliver a solution that’s equitable for all energy consumers. Reaching the desired outcome — a net-zero energy system — demands representation and input from all segments of society to clearly steer the decision-making processes. But to successfully effect massive change also requires open communication, advanced technology and strategic project management — other key factors of an integrated approach that drive seamless project execution.

Augmented and virtual reality technologies, known for offering advantages in design accuracy, are constantly evolving to improve collaboration between on- and off-site members of the team. A wearable technology solution, RealWear glasses with voice-activated computer tablet can capture and relay crucial project information to the project team, wherever they are, in real time, limiting the number of personnel required on-site. The wearables have proven to be extremely effective in collecting data in the field while protecting users.

Transitioning all networks to a net-zero energy system won’t be easy. By aligning with partners in education, government, project delivery and local supply chains, the U.K. will continue moving in the right direction to deliver cleaner energy at a cost-effective price. In fact, the engineer-procure-construct method is designed to bring the entire project team together — owner, engineer, contractor, subcontractors and suppliers — at the beginning of a project, offering one point of accountability; lower costs; and a more unified, streamlined process. Integration, especially when applied to a circular economy concept, helps meet timely sustainability targets.

Keeping customers and stakeholders top of mind, a collaborative approach highlights critical opportunity areas that will play a vital role in developing a safe, reliable and resilient network and future. Decarbonising the U.K. economy is monumental, and no one can do it alone.

 

Complex transmission and distribution projects require an experienced team to sort through unique challenges and find custom solutions. Discover how engineer-procure-construct teams can help you have a successful project outcome.

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Polly Osborne is an electrical engineer with Burns & McDonnell, working from the firm’s rapidly growing office in the U.K. She specialises in whole energy system consulting and engineering to promote a more sustainable environment and collaborates with co-workers around the globe to share best practices.